Z-siteA Companion to the Works of Louis Zukofsky
Poem beginning “The”
Fall-Winter 1926 / The Exile 3 (Spring 1928)
Ahearn, Barry. Zukofsky’s “A”: An Introduction (1983): 20-37.
Dembo, L.S. “Louis Zukofsky: Objectivist Poetics and the Quest for Form.” American Literature 44.1 (1972): 74-96. Rpt. Terrell (1979): 298-301.
DuPlessis, Rachel Blau. Genders, Races and Religious Cultures in Modern American Poetry, 1908-1934 (2001): 166-174.
___. Purple Passages: Pound, Eliot, Zukofsky, Olson, Creeley and the Ends of Patriarchal Poetry (2012): 64-68.
Ma, Ming-Qian. “A ‘no man’s land!’: Postmodern Citationality in Zukofsky’s ‘Poem beginning “The.”’” In Scroggins (1997): 129-153.
Schimmel, Harold. “Zuk. Yehoash David Rex.” Paideuma 7.3 (1978): 559-569. Rpt. Terrell (1979): 235-245.
Scroggins, Mark. Louis Zukofsky and the Poetry of Knowledge (1998): 124-132.
Shreiber, Maeera Y. Singing in a Strange Land: A Jewish American Poetics (2007): 105-127.
Shoemaker, Steve. “Between Contact and Exile: Louis Zukofsky’s Poetry of Survival.” In Scroggins (1997): 23-43.
Stanley, Sandra Kumanoto. Louis Zukofsky and the Transformation of a Modern American Poetics (1994): 51-70.
Tomas, John. “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Jew: Zukofsky’s Poem Beginning ‘The’ in Context.” Sagetrieb 9.1 & 2 (1990): 43-64.
Twitchell-Waas, Jeffrey. “‘Oh my son Sun’: Poem beginning ‘The'” (2014). Z-Notes.
Woods, Tim. The Poetics of the Limit: Ethics and Politics in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (2002): 27-33.
LZ’s first major work, written at age 22, “Poem beginning ‘The’” is in part a parodic homage to his modernist elders, and especially T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, published just four years previous in 1922. It may also be relevant that Eliot’s The Hollow Men had recently come out as well in the volume Poems, 1909-1925 (1925), which included The Waste Land and the rest of Eliot’s best-known early poems. As with The Waste Land, LZ adds notes, in this case upping the ante by putting them up front, and line numbers as if already a canonical text, but absurdly numbering every line and in one instance a blank “line” (noted as “The French Language”). Quite a few commentators have assumed the notes are primarily satiric and even ludicrous, but, while certainly playful, for the most part they are reliable references to other authors and works echoed in LZ’s poem. A few remarks on “Poem beginning ‘The’” in relation to The Waste Land can be found in the original version of “American Poetry 1920-1930,” The Symposium 2.1 (Jan. 1931): 73, as well as a 12 Dec. 1930 letter to Ezra Pound (EP/LZ 78-79).
Title: Stanley points out that not only does LZ’s poem literally begin with “The,” but so does the title of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land to which the poem is responding, suggesting an emphasis on the article rather than the substantive (57).
Title “And out of olde bokes, in good feith”: from Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343-1400), the Proem to the “Parliament of Fowls”:
For out of olde feldes, as men seith,
Cometh al this newe corn fro yeer to yere;
And out of olde bokes, in good feith,
Cometh al this newe science that men lere.
But now to purpos as of this matere—
To rede forth hit gan me so delyte,
That al the day me thoughte but a lyte.
4 A boy’s best friend is his mother: there are numerous versions of a popular song with this title and refrain going back to the 1880s.
8 From the candle flames of the souls of dead mothers: LZ notes D.H. Lawrence here, which could refer to any number of works, but most likely Sons and Lovers (1913). The central mother-son relationship in this novel, where the love of the mother overpowers the protagonist’s relations with his lovers, has obvious parallels with “Poem beginning ‘The,’” and near the end when the mother has died, the main protagonist goes up with a candle to see her laid out one last time.
9 legend of thin Christ sending her out of the temple: presumably this refers to Luke 2:41-52, where the twelve year old Jesus disappears and is found by his parents in the Temple sitting among the teachers. When they ask him why he has treated them in this manner, Jesus replies by asking why they have sought him out and that he is in his Father’s house. Although Jesus leaves with them, the implication is that he already has taken on a higher mission than obedience to his parents. Cf. Matthew 12:46-50.
12 Tyrrhenian: sea bounded by the western coast of Italy, Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica. LZ notes refer to Aldous Huxley’s early satirical novel, Those Barren Leaves (1925), set at an Italian Renaissance palace owned by a wealthy English woman near the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Aspiring to rekindle the glories of the Renaissance, she gathers artists and intellectuals who carry on lengthy discussions that expose their superficiality. Capri, on which the island setting of Norman Douglas’ South Wind (see next) is based, is also in the Tyrrhenian Sea.
14 South Wind…: 1917 novel by Norman Douglas (1868-1952) set on the imaginary island of Nepenthe (based on Capri) in the Tyrrhenian Sea where a cast of expatriate characters converse on various contemporary cultural topics. The novel was immensely successful on its publication during the war. The south wind is a constant physical presence in the novel and is explicitly identified with the sirocco, strong hot and enervating winds that blow up from north Africa.
15 the age demands an image…: from EP, “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley: Life and Contacts,” section II of Part I:
The age demanded an image
Of its accelerated grimace,
Something for the modern stage,
Not, at any rate, an Attic grace […]
18 Mauberly’s / Luini in porcelain: from EP, “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley” (misspelled or misprinted in LZ’s poem), the opening line of the concluding section, “Medallion,” of Part II. Bernardino Luini (1480-1532), Milanese painter and follower of Leonardo da Vinci; this line in EP is usually understood as alluding to a refined but superficial artist; see CSP 195.
18 Chelifer: Francis Chelifer is a disillusioned poet in Aldous Huxley’s Those Barren Leaves (see 12).
19 Lovat who killed Kangaroo: in D.H. Lawrence, Kangaroo (1923), Richard Lovat Somers is the Lawrence character who does not literally kill Kangaroo, a charismatic political figure, but does so in the sense of refusing to carry on the latter’s work as he is dying in the chapter “Kangaroo Is Killed.”
20 Stephen Daedalus with the cane of ash: in James Joyce, The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1915) but especially in Ulysses (1922), Stephen Daedalus rarely appears without mention of his ashplant cane.
21 les neiges: as LZ notes, from François Villon’s most famous line, “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?” (Where are the snows of yesteryear?), from the ballade, “Des dames du temps jadis.”
22 Mary’s Observations: Marianne Moore (1887-1972), Observations (1924) was her second book and includes many of her best-known poems.
24 Kerith is long dry…: LZ notes here both Elijah and the Irish novelist George Moore (1852-1933), whose novel The Brook Kerith: A Syrian Story (1916) is one of several modernist period versions of Christ after the Crucifixion. The primary reference is to I Kings 17:3-7, with verses 5-6 used by Moore as the epigraph to his novel: “[the Lord to Elijah:] Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there. So he went and did according unto the word of the Lord: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook. And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land.”
27 sacred wood: T.S. Eliot’s first volume of essays, The Sacred Wood (1920).
28 Odysseus…: alluding to Homer and Odysseus’ ten years of wandering on his journey home, which then is extended in the following line to James Joyce, Ulysses (1922), which takes place in a single day and involves Stephen Daedalus from The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man (see 20).
29 bibbing: moderate but regular drinking, to tipple.
30 O why is that to Hecuba as Hecuba to he!: from Shakespeare, Hamlet II.ii: Hamlet’s soliloquy beginning, “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I,” which includes the following lines referring to an actor:
What’s Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do
Had he the motive and cue for passion
That I have?
32 given a woman’s intuition: Tomas suggests this may allude to Tiresias, the blind prophet who was turned into a woman for a period by Hera. Tiresias appears in The Waste Land, and Eliot’s note states that his perspective encompasses that of the entire poem.
33 Il y a un peu trop de femme…: Fr. there is a bit too much of the female.
34 And on the cobblestones, bang, bang, bang…: trams and their various noises crisscross the cobblestone streets of Dublin throughout Ulysses.
38 O the Time is 5 / I do!…: this passage echoes the pub closing section of T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land Part II. LZ notes what he considered to be E.E. Cummings’ major volume of poetry, is 5 (1926), which aside from its various parodic versions of songs and genres, may have suggested several specific details in “Poem beginning ‘The’”: the mention of Villon’s les neiges at line 21 (see is 5 One, VIII) and the parody of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Helen” at lines 168-182 (see is 5 One, IV).
45 For it’s the hoo-doos, the somethin’ voo-doos: LZ notes this as “College Cheer,” although it echoes Vachel Lindsay’s performative poem, “The Congo (A Study of the Negro Race)” (1914), which includes variations on the chorus, “Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you,” as well as mentioning “voo-doo.” See also next note.
46 And not Kings onlelie, but the wisest men…: from Christopher Marlowe, Edward II, I.iv:
The mightiest kings have had their minions,
Great Alexander lovde Ephestion,
The conquering Hercules for Hilas wept,
And for Patroclus sterne Achillis droopt:
And not kings onelie, but the wisest men,
The Romaine Tullie loved Octavius,
Grave Socrates, wilde Alcibiades:
Then let his grace, whose youth is flexible,
And promiseth as much as we can wish,
Freely enjoy that vaine light-headed earle,
For riper yeares will weane him from such toyes.
Combined with the preceding line there is quite possibly a buried allusion, since the original name of LZ’s alma mater Columbia University was, during the colonial period, King’s College. Koichiro Yamauchi points out that these lines are spoken by the elder Mortimer, suggesting a possible buried reference to LZ’s Columbia classmate Mortimer J. Adler, the philosopher who apparently was often called Plato by his friends (personal communication)—in any case he was a strong advocate of the classics and of the Great Books movement instigated by John Erskine at Columbia (see note at 184).
52 Dalloway!: Mrs. Dalloway (1925), novel by Virginia Woolf.
53 The blind portals opening, and I awoke!: possibly echoing John Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale.”
56 Not by graven images forbidden to us: referring to the prohibition among the Jews against creating images of Jehovah; see especially the second of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:4: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”
59 Spinoza grinding lenses: the Dutch Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) was excommunicated from the Jewish community of Amsterdam because of his views and thereafter made his living as a lens grinder.
60 Cathedral Parkway: runs east-west along the upper end of Central Park, a few blocks from Columbia University, and becomes 110th Street on the east side. The year LZ wrote “Poem beginning ‘The,’” his parents moved from the Lower East Side to 57 East 111th Street (?).
Title An International Episode: as LZ notes, the title of an 1879 novella by Henry James concerning typically Jamesian cross-cultural encounters. The relevance of this allusion is not obvious, although the work opens with the two young aristocratic Englishmen at the center of the story arriving in New York and driving down Broadway.
62 Peter Out: suggests the ending of T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” (1925): “Not with a bang but a whimper,” although this could also suit The Waste Land’s trailing off in shored fragments.
66 ’Tis, ’tis love, that makes the world go round…: presumably echoes a popular song, of which there are variations using this as their refrain going back at least to the early 19th century. The line can be found in both Alice in Wonderland and Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, but also there was an 1896 hit song with this title by the very popular Broadway writer-composers Clyde Fitch and William Furst. LZ parodically notes Dante here, alluding to the ultimate vision of the Divine Comedy.
68 Jew goat-song: LZ notes Franz Werfel (1890-1945), a Jewish German language writer, who wrote the Expressionist play, The Goat-Song (1921). Goat-song is the literal meaning of the Greek for “tragedy” (tragoidia). The play centers on a half-human half-beast figure symbolizing the irrational forces that break out in rebellion and violence. Hans Wagener notes: “In the United States the play was first performed on 25 January 1926 by the Theatre Guild in New York. In altogether 58 performances it became the event of the theatre season and a considerable commercial success. On four Sunday afternoons the Guild scheduled presentations and discussions by writers and journalists on the significance of the play, filling the 2,000-seat theater. Werfel’s play was also hotly debated in the press. […] Most importantly, Werfel was introduced to the American public as an important European writer” (Understanding Franz Werfel, U of South Carolina P, 1993): 50.
70 Not the old Greeks anymore: LZ notes this as “University Extension,” which was a pioneering school for non-traditional or adult students established at Columbia University in 1904 by its long-standing president, Nicolas Murray Butler (from 1902-1945), who was a strong proponent of the core curriculum. The following lines give a succinct version of Platonic idealism.
74 “Il Duce: I feel God deeply”: It. The Leader, i.e. Mussolini. In 1926 there were several assassination attempts on Mussolini and in an interview he reported stated: “I feel God deeply. I believe in God, I am fully convinced that those who attempt my life cannot harm me. While God protects me no human force can stop me.”
75 Black shirts: Mussolini’s fascist followers.
76 Lion-heart, frate mio: although Lion-heart (Coeur de lion) refers to King Richard I (1157-1199), here it is a pet name for LZ’s friend Richard (Ricky) Chambers, younger brother of Whittaker Chambers, who is mentioned several times in “A” and committed suicide in Oct. 1926, which accounts for the funereal imagery in the following through 109 (see “A”-2.6.24, “A”-3, which is an elegy for Ricky, “A”-6.23.19 and “A”-7.42.3). Frate mio: It. my brother; the phrase appears at least twice in Dante’s Purgatorio.
110 And his heart is dry…: as LZ notes, through 129 is a translation from the Yiddish poet Yehoash, pseudonym of Solomon Bloomgarden (1872-1927), from the volume In the Weaving (2 vols, 1919 and 1920), whose work includes adaptations or imitations from other languages, including Arabic, Chinese and Japanese. Yehoash made a well-known Yiddish translation of Longfellow’s Hiawatha, which no doubt is the version LZ mentions reading as a boy (Autobiography 33). Here LZ translates a passage of a poem entitled “Bakhr Esh-Shytan” in the translation by Barbara and Benjamin Harshav in Sing, Stranger: A Century of American Yiddish Poetry, A Historical Anthology (Stanford UP, 2006): 110-112. See also 205-223 and 318-330 for further Yehoash translations, and others are incorporated into “A”-4.
116 asilah: an Arabic name meaning strengthened; here presumably referring to the Bedouin’s camel. Yehoash studied and translated from classical Arabic, and his poem is sprinkled with various Arabic terms.
132 “Tilbury”: LZ notes Edwin Arlington Robinson, Children of the Night (1897), which includes a number of his most famous, usually grim poems concerning characters from the imaginary New England town of Tilbury.
132 “The West-Decline”: as LZ notes, cf. Oswald Spengler (1880-1936), The Decline of the West (1917, 1923; English trans. vol. 1, 1926).
133 “The Happy Quetzalcoatl”: as LZ notes, cf. D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930), The Plumed Serpent (1924) concerning an effort to revive the Aztec worship of Quetzalcoatl, who is the supreme nature god in Aztec religion.
141 indomitaeque morti: as LZ notes, from Horace, Ode II.xiv: “Eheu fugaces, Postume, Postume, labuntur anni, nec pietas moram, rugis et instanti senaectae, adferet indomitaeque morti” (Alas, Postumus, the fleeting years slip by, nor will piety give pause to wrinkles, to advancing old age, to unconquered death).
146 “The Dream That Knows No Waking”: there was an 1880s popular song with this title.
161 —And r-r-run —the Sun!: probably alluding to the final lines of Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress”: “Thus, though we cannot make our sun / Stand still, yet we will make him run” (Tomas 53).
Title More “Renaissance”: referring to Walter Pater (1839-1894), The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry (see 165).
163 Drop in at Askforaclassic, Inc.: see note at 184.
165 A little frost before sundown: LZ’s note refers to Walter Pater’s The Renaissance (1873, various revised editions), whose brief conclusion was something of a manifesto for English aestheticism, and here LZ is referring to its most famous paragraph: “To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life. In a sense it might even be said that our failure is to form habits: for, after all, habit is relative to a stereotyped world, and meantime it is only the roughness of the eye that makes two persons, things, situations, seem alike. While all melts under our feet, we may well grasp at any exquisite passion, or any contribution to knowledge that seems by a lifted horizon to set the spirit free for a moment, or any stirring of the sense, strange dyes, strange colours, and curious odours, or work of the artist’s hands, or the face of one’s friend. Not to discriminate every moment some passionate attitude in those about us, and in the very brilliancy of their gifts some tragic dividing on their ways, is, on this short day of frost and sun, to sleep before evening. With this sense of the splendour of our experience and of its awful brevity, gathering all we are into one desperate effort to see and touch, we shall hardly have time to make theories about the things we see and touch. […] The theory or idea or system which requires of us the sacrifice of any part of this experience, in consideration of some interest into which we cannot enter, or some abstract theory we have not identified with ourselves, or of what is only conventional, has no real claim upon us.”
167 Plato’s Philo: Philo of Alexandria was a first century Hellenized Jew who attempted to reconcile Greek (particularly Plato) and Judaic thought through allegorical interpretation.
168 Engprof, thy lecture were to me…: through 182 is a parodic rewriting of Edgar Allan Poe, “To Helen,” echoing key words and phrases of the original. On the “Engprof” see note at 184:
Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicean barks of yore,
That gently, o’er a perfum’d sea,
The weary way-worn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.
On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
To the beauty of fair Greece,
And the grandeur of old Rome.
Lo! in that little window-niche
How statue-like I see thee stand!
The folded scroll within thy hand—
A Psyche from the regions which
Are Holy land!
169 roast flitches of red boar: flitches are salted and cured side of bacon (AHD). LZ may be alluding here to the Boar’s Head Society, named after the favorite hangout of Falstaff and his gang, which was a student literary group that met at Columbia University’s Low Library under the supervision of John Erskine (see note at 184) and edited the poetry journal, The Morningside, in which LZ frequently published poems.
176 Pater: see 165.
180 Phi Beta Key: Phi Beta Kappa is a scholastic honors society, which uses a symbolic key as a token of membership. LZ was elected to Phi Beta Kappa while at Columbia.
183 Poe: Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849). It may be relevant that John Erskine (see following note) has a four page adulatory poem to Poe in his Collected Poems 1907-1922 (1922).
184 Gentlemen, don’chewknow…: LZ’s note identifies this as spoken by John Erskine (1879-1951), which indicates that lines 164-167 are as well. Erskine was an English professor at Columbia University, specializing in Elizabethan literature, as well as a musician and popular novelist. He is remembered today as the initiator of the Great Books Program, which began as a General Honors course in 1920, taught using the Socratic method and emphasized an extensive but core canonical texts in translation. It is often presumed this program is satirically alluded to in line 163, “Drop in at Askforaclassic, Inc.,” although it is not clear this is the case.
185 never wrote an epic: alluding to Poe’s claim in “The Poetic Principle” (1850) that a poetic epic is a contradiction in terms: “[Paradise Lost], in fact, is to be regarded as poetical, only when, losing sight of that vital requisite in all works of Art, Unity, we view it merely as a series of minor poems. If, to preserve its Unity—its totality of effect or impression—we read it (as would be necessary) at a single sitting, the result is but a constant alternation of excitement and depression. […] It follows from all this that the ultimate, aggregate, or absolute effect of even the best epic under the sun is a nullity; —and this is precisely the fact. […] The modern epic is, of the supposititious ancient model, but an inconsiderate and blindfold imitation. But the day of these artistic anomalies is over. If, at any time, any very long poems were popular in reality—which I doubt—it is at least clear that no very long poem will ever be popular again.”
187 Gathered mushrooms…: LZ notes Robert Herrick (1591-1674), “To Virgins, to Make Much of Time”:
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
191 Un in hoyze is kalt: Yiddish, “and in the house it’s cold.” LZ notes that this is a “Jewish Folk Song.” Hana Wirth-Nesher identifies this as “Oyfn Pripetshok (or Pripitchek)” (On the hearth), one of the best known Yiddish songs, actually composed by Mark Warshawsky in the late 19th century although often taken to be a folk song (Call It English: The Languages of Jewish American Literature (2005): 19). The first stanza is:
Oyfn pripetshok brent a fayerl,
Un in shtub iz heys,
Un der rebe lernt kleyne kinderlech,
(On the hearth a little fire is burning, / And it is hot in the house, / And the rebe’s teaching the little children, / The ABC); trans. Ruth Rubin).
The song continues by entreating the children to learn the Hebrew alphabet which they will come to understand embodies the history and sufferings of the Jewish people and from which they can take strength in the future.
197 your Russia that is free: the Russian Revolution took place in 1917; LZ’s parents emigrated from what was then part of Russia (now Lithuania) in the 1890s.
199 “So then an egoist can never embrace a party…: LZ notes the German philosopher Max Stirner (1806-1856), The Ego and His Own (1844; English trans. 1907):
“A party, of whatever kind it may be, can never do without a confession of faith. For those who belong to the party must believe in its principle, it must not be brought in doubt or put in question by them, it must be the certain, indubitable thing for the party-member. That is: One must belong to a party body and soul, else one is not truly a party-man, but more or less—an egoist. Harbor a doubt of Christianity, and you are already no longer a true Christian, you have lifted yourself to the ‘effrontery’ of putting a question beyond it and haling Christianity before your egoistic judgment-seat. You have—sinned against Christianity, this party cause (for it is surely not e.g. a cause for the Jews, another party.) But well for you if you do not let yourself be affrighted: your effrontery helps you to ownness.
So then an egoist could never embrace a party or take up with a party? Oh, yes, only he cannot let himself be embraced and taken up by the party. For him the party remains all the time nothing but a gathering: he is one of the party, he takes part.
The best State will clearly be that which has the most loyal citizens, and the more the devoted mind for legality is lost, so much the more will the State, this system of morality, this moral life itself, be diminished in force and quality. With the ‘good citizens’ the good State too perishes and dissolves into anarchy and lawlessness. ‘Respect for the law!’ By this cement the total of the State is held together. ‘The law is sacred, and he who affronts it a criminal.’ Without crime no State: the moral world—and this the State is—is crammed full of scamps, cheats, liars, thieves, etc. Since the State is the ‘lordship of law,’ its hierarchy, it follows that the egoist, in all cases where his advantage runs against the State’s, can satisfy himself only by crime” (trans. Steven T. Byington).
205 Winged wild geese, where lies the passage…: through 223 a translation of a Yiddish poem by Yehoash (see 110) entitled “Cheshvan,” indicating a month in the Hebrew calendar (Schimmel 243); translated as “October” by Barbara and Benjamin Harshav in Sing, Stranger: A Century of American Yiddish Poetry, A Historical Anthology (Stanford UP, 2006): 101-102. LZ has reversed the order of the two parts of the poem, with the opening line of the original translated at 211; a surviving manuscript follows the original Yiddish text (HRC 15.1), but LZ switched the parts at the last minute, after submitting the poem to EP (see EP/LZ 4-6).
245 Dawn’t you think Trawtsky rawtaw a darrling?: Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) Russian revolutionary leader; who at the time of this poem was locked in a struggle with Stalin as to who would be the successor of Lenin as leader of the USSR. LZ’s note indicates the source as Max Beerbohm, whose book of satiric drawings, A Survey (1921), includes one of two young society ladies, both smoking and one lying on a sofa holding a book, with the title, “Politics,” and the caption: “‘M’dyah, doncher think Trotsky must be rarther a darling? Doncher think it would be rarther divine if we had some one rarther like him here? Isn’t there something rarther touching about him? Of co’rse a Red Terror would be rarther awful while it larsted. But orl the same, I do think,’ etc.”
245 Tchekoff: Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), Russian fiction writer and playwright.
248 the Angles—Angels—: LZ notes the Venerable Bede’s Anglo-Saxon Ecclesiastical History, which gives an account of the arrival of the Germanic tribe Angli or Angles into Britain where they settled in what became Northumbria, where Bede lived. The identification of Angles with angels appears in a story about Pope Gregory I who sent the first missions to Christianize Britain: “It is reported, that some merchants, having just arrived at Rome on a certain day, exposed many things for sale in the marketplace, and abundance of people resorted thither to buy: Gregory himself went with the rest, and, among other things, some boys were set to sale, their bodies white, their countenances beautiful, and their hair very fine. Having viewed them, he asked, as is said, from what country or nation they were brought? And was told, from the island of Britain, whose inhabitants were of such personal appearance. He again inquired whether those islanders were Christians, or still involved in the errors of paganism? And was informed that they were pagans. Then fetching a deep sigh from the bottom of his heart, ‘Alas! What pity,’ said he, ‘That the author of darkness is possessed of men of such fair countenances; and that being remarkable for such graceful aspects, their minds should be void of inward grace.’ He therefore again asked, what was the name of that nation? And was answered, that they were called Angles. ‘Right,’ said he, ‘for they have an Angelic face, and it becomes such to be co-heirs with the Angles in heaven’” (Book II, Chap. 2, trans. L.C. Jane).
250 If I am like them in the rest…: LZ notes Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice through 265, from which he draws on passages from back-to-back scenes in Act III (see also 262). From III.i:
Shylock: To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.”
253 Shagetz: or shegetz, Yiddish, a young non-Jewish man, usually with derogatory implications of being rough or untrustworthy.
254 Donne: John Donne (1572-1631), whose “Elegy on the Lady Marckam” may be echoed in the following line: “Of what small spots pure white complaines! Alas / How little poyson cracks a christall glasse?” (Shoemaker 35).
255 leopard in their spots: presumably from Jeremiah 13:23-25, where Jeremiah admonishes Jews who take up foreign ways: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Therefore will I scatter them as the stubble that passeth away by the wind of the wilderness. This is thy lot, the portion of thy measure from me, saith the Lord; because thou hast forgotten me, and trusted in falsehood.”
256 says their Coleridge, / Twist red hot pokers into knots: alluding to an epigram by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), “On Donne’s Poetry”:
With Donne, whose muse on dromedary trots,
Wreathe iron pokers into true-love knots;
Rhyme’s sturdy cripple, fancy’s maze and clue,
Wit’s forge and fire-blast, meaning’s press and screw.
258 The villainy they teach me…: see note at 250.
262 It is engendered in the eyes…: through 265 from a song or madrigal in Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice III.ii, sung while Bassanio is deciding on which casket to choose (this song is quoted 3 times in Bottom 60, 175, 286; see also “A”-12.127.2):
Tell me where is Fancy bred,
Or in the heart, or in the head?
How begot, how nourishèd?
It is engender’d in the eyes;
With gazing fed; and Fancy dies
In the cradle where it lies.
Let us all ring Fancy’s knell;
I’ll begin it, —Ding-dong, bell.
266 I, Senora, am the Son of the Respected Rabbi…: from Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), last stanza of the ballad “Donna Clara,” in which the mysterious ideal lover of the aristocratic and virulently anti-Semitic Donna Clara reveals his identity:
Ich, Sennora, Eur Geliebter,
bin der Sohn des vielbelobten,
großen, schriftgelehrten Rabbi
Israel von Saragossa.
I, Senora, your beloved,
Am the son of the respected,
Worthy, erudite Grand Rabbi,
Israel of Saragossa. (trans. Emma Lazarus)
269 Keinen Kadish wird man sagen: from Heinrich Heine, “Gedächtnisfeier”:
Keine Messe wird man singen,
keinen Kadosch wird man sagen.
Nichts gesagt und nichts gesungen
wird an meinen Sterbetagen.
No mass will be sung,
No Kaddish will be said,
Nothing said nor sung
On my deathdays. (trans. Margit Waas)
270 Under the cradle the white goat stands, mother…: from a well-known Yiddish lullaby, “Raisins and Almonds” (Schimmel 244), from Abraham Goldfaden’s 1880 romantic operetta Shulamis (Shulamith):
Under Baby’s cradle in the night
Stands a goat so soft and snowy white
The Goat will go to the market
To bring you wonderful treats
He’ll bring you raisins and almonds
Sleep, my little one, sleep.
Although famous on its own, the lullaby was originally part of a longer song, in which the mother goes on to prophesize that the baby will become a rich merchant. It seems likely Zukofsky was familiar with the operetta or at least its songs since he clearly refers to its story at 280: Shulamith, having gotten lost in the desert and then trapped in a well, is rescued by Absolom, who pledges to marry her, calling on the “the cat and the well” as his witnesses—a promise he fails to keep. Goldfaden (1840-1908) would undoubtedly have been a familiar name to LZ in his youth as he is considered the founder of Yiddish theatre and lived the last few years of his life in NYC, where on his death the New York Times called him the “Yiddish Shakespeare.” There are numerous translations of Goldfaden’s lullaby, but presumably Zukofsky made his own adaptation.
277 Tophet: city near Jerusalem particularly identified with the worship of Molech and its practice of sacrificing children. LZ possibly has in mind Jeremiah 19:14-15: “Then came Jeremiah from Tophet, whither the Lord had sent him to prophesy; and he stood in the court of the Lord’s house; and said to all the people, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring upon this city and upon all her towns all the evil that I have pronounced against it, because they have hardened their necks, that they might not hear my words.”
280 Shulamite: the female beloved in Song of Solomon, but here the central character in Goldfaden’s Shulamis (see 270).
281 In my faith, in my hope, and in my love…: as LZ notes, through 285 from Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), the dramatic poem Peer Gynt (1867), a satiric fantasy; LZ is quoting the translation of William and Charles Archer (1892). Lines 281-283 are from a lullaby at the very end of the play sung by Solveig to comfort Peer—while Solveig is not literally his mother, he refers to her here as “mother and wife,” although earlier in the play he had abandoned her. Lines 284-285 are from the end of Act III: the stage direction indicates Peer’s action at the moment of his mother’s death, and then the following line is his subsequent remark as he is about to set off on aimless wanderings.
288 The Royal Stag is abroad, / I am gone out hunting…: unidentified; LZ notes as “Popular Non-Sacred Song.”
291 Angles: see 248.
292 faisant un petit bruit, mais très net: Fr. makes a little noise, but very neat.
295 katydid: a type of American grasshopper, whose name is onomatopoeic of the distinctive loud noise it makes, as mimicked in the following line, with euphemistic suggestion as well.
305 Baedekera Schönberg: the usual assumption is that this refers to the Viennese Jewish composer Arnold Schönberg (1874-1951), who pioneered atonal music in the early decades of the 20th century (Tomas 59). However, in context this is perhaps simply a parodic European (and gentile) sounding female name. Baedekera suggesting the famous Baedeker series of travel books, mentioned in T.S. Eliot’s “Burbank with Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar” (1920), and thus a tourist perspective on high culture. Schönberg literally means beautiful mountain.
309 Our God immortal such Life as is our God: LZ notes this line as from Bach and also from “Myself.” This line as well as the phrase “errant star” at 311 are from a 1925 poem, “For a Thing by Bach,” apparently a translation or adaptation of a Bach text that LZ published in Pagany (Oct.-Dec. 1930) and also quoted many years later in “A”-18.391.12-17.
310 Bei dein Zauber, by thy magic: as LZ notes, from Beethoven, Ninth Symphony, fourth movement (Ode to Joy): “By thy magic is united what stern custom parted wide, / All mankind are brothers plighted, / Where thy gentle wings abide” (Schiller’s text).
311 Open Sesame, Ali Baba, I, thy firefly…: although LZ’s note identifies these two lines as also from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (see previous note), they are from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestral suite, Scheherezade (1888), based on tales from the Arabian Nights (Tomas 59).
313 O my son Sun, my son, my son…: see David’s lament for Absalom in II Samuel 18:33: “And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (Tomas 61).
316 Aus meinen grossen leiden mach ich die kleinen lieder: from the first stanza of a Heinrich Heine song set by various composers”
Aus meinen großen Schmerzen
mach ich die kleinen Lieder;
die heben ihr klingend Gefieder
und flattern nach ihrem Herzen.
From my great sorrows
I make small songs;
they lift their ringing feathers
and flutter to her heart. (trans. Emily Ezust)
318 By the wrack we shall sing our Sun-song…: through 330 adapted from Yehoash’s “Oif di Churvos” (On the Ruins); see 110. Schimmel points out that LZ changes the original “I” to “we.”